Event Reports

SAIIA/KAS Careers Evening 2010

The 2010 South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA)-Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) Careers Evening took place on 11 August at Jan Smuts House, University of the Witwatersrand. The purpose of this event was to provide a platform for postgraduate students in the studies of International Relations, Economics, Law and Journalism to gain a better understanding of the career opportunities available to them. The event included a careers exhibition, followed by a panel of speakers from the selected sectors, who discussed their individual career paths and provided useful advice.

Exhibitors in the first part of the evening included the Africa Institute, the German Academic Exchange Service, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, the International Human Rights Exchange, the Legal Resource Centre, the Institute for Security Studies, the Japanese Embassy’s JET study programme, the United Nations Information Centre, and the University of the Witwatersrand International Office, as well as SAIIA and KAS.

Following the exhibition, the students were invited to attend a series of short talks by relevant speakers. The first speaker of the night was the Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to South Africa, His Excellency Dr Mohamed Zayed. The Ambassador spoke not only of his experience as a diplomat to South Africa but also of the challenges he faced as a diplomat to Afghanistan in 2001. In his account of his career, he highlighted that a career path unfolds over time, and that young people should follow their passions. In his case, his passion was political affairs.

His presentation was filled with crucial pieces of advice not only for students wishing to pursue a similar career path but for all students from humanities and commerce alike. The audience was encouraged to pursue new opportunities that present themselves. Students were also reminded that the pursuit of one’s dreams can often be a lengthy process but that the journey of reaching that goal is often as significant as the destination itself. Moreover, the importance of continuously bettering oneself through reading and studying was highlighted. Through his detailed and often humorous presentation the Ambassador inspired the audience to pursue their dreams.

Ambassador Zayad was followed by Dr Nomfundo Ngwenya, who is the head of the South African Foreign Policy and African Drivers Programme at SAIIA. She holds an MA in International Studies from the University of Stellenbosch, an MSc in Politics of the World Economy from the London School of Economics (LSE) and a PhD from the University of Cambridge. She gave an interesting and practical advice. Having worked for government for two years as a research analyst at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), as well as having worked in the non-governmental sector, Dr Ngwenya noted the path to success will always entail hard work. Students were encouraged to improve their writing skills, in order to equip them for the work environment. Further, Dr Ngwenya emphasized the importance of being multi-lingual, particularly as the world becomes increasingly globalised.

This was a lesson that was reiterated by the evening’s third speaker, Godfrey Waluse, who is currently the head of strategic issues management at the Standard Bank of South Africa. He himself is fluent in both Japanese and French, and attributed many of his career opportunities to his language capabilities. Mr Waluse attended the reputable Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, among other prominent educational establishments. He recounted how attending such highly-rated institutions had been hugely beneficial to his career, having provided him with valuable networks of contacts around the world. Mr. Waluse’s presentation no doubt inspired the students to work towards excellence and to set ambitious goals.

Speaking on a career in journalism, Phylicia Oppelt, editor of The Times, was the next speaker on the panel. The Times is a national daily newspaper, launched in 2007 by the Avusa media group. In a career spanning nearly twenty years, Ms Oppelt has held several editorial and managerial positions. From December 2008, she was editor of the Business Times, before taking up her position at The Times in March 2010. Before that, she was editor of the Daily Dispatch in East London in the Eastern Cape, where she was the first woman to hold that position. During her career, Ms Oppelt has been involved in breaking several controversial and high-profile stories and, tied to this, she spoke of integrity and honesty as the key attributes required for a career in journalism. She also highlighted some of the challenges facing journalists in South Africa today; in particular, the proposed Protection of Information Bill and the Media Appeals Tribunal.

The final speaker on the panel was Justice Richard Goldstone, a former justice of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of South Africa. He provided an inspiring and thoughtful end to the evening. In addition to a long career as one of South Africa’s most reputable legal practitioners, Justice Goldstone has also received international recognition arising from his appointment as the first chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. He has also participated in the UN fact-finding mission on the conflict in Gaza. His advice to the students who attended was brief, but poignant. He emphasised the need to remain flexible and open-minded throughout one’s career, as it was impossible to predict where one might end up. He further noted how important it was to establish strong personal relationships with those who you work with, as they would be the most likely way to further your career. His final piece of advice related to taking the initiative wherever possible, even if it meant starting with small and simplistic tasks, as this would always serve to demonstrate a willingness to work.

The annual SAIIA-KAS careers evening is organised by the interns participating in the SAIIA-KAS Masters Internship Programme. This is an initiative which allows suitable candidates the opportunity to undertake a masters degree at the University of the Witwatersrand, while simultaneously serving an internship at SAIIA. The programme has, for more than 10 years, offered high-level individual an opportunity to enter into the world of research, where they are involved in writing, administrative and networking activities. The programme has a group of highly-regarded alumni, working in the fields of politics, law, economics, international relations and journalism.